73% of Karachi’s NA-243 polling stations are handicap inaccessible

KARACHI: Around 73% of the polling stations in NA-243, which falls in District East, are inaccessible to persons with disabilities, revealed a survey conducted by the Pakistan Alliance for Inclusive Elections (PAIE), a network of disabled persons’ organisations working in the country.
The NA-243 seat fell vacant after Prime Minister Imran Khan, who had won five NA seats, vacated it.
These numbers are alarming, considering the Election Comission of Pakistan’s (ECP) five-year strategic plan, which was to be implemented before the July 2018 general elections, included polling station accessibility. Pakistan’s largest city will now face the same issue in the upcoming by-elections on October 14.

Civil society organisations have demanded the ECP take immediate steps to make all polling stations accessible to persons with disabilities.

By-elections for 30 vacant seats on October 14

There are a total 216 polling stations in this constituency with 402,731 registered voters, of whom 211,510 are male and 191,221 female. The number of persons with disabilities registered as voters in this constituency is unclear.

The survey results depict that maximum polling stations fail to meet one or more mandatory criteria lacking, water, sanitation, proper ventilation and ramps. “With minor alterations, the issues can be resolved,” the survey found.

Sharing the findings of the survey, Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) Senior Advocacy Officer Fatimah Shah said, “The purpose of this audit was to present reliable data before stakeholders regarding accessibility in elections and to generate debate on the concerns of persons with disabilities.”
This issue becomes more important in the current scenario as the ECP failed to resolve the accessibility problem before the general elections this year and now, the by-elections are approaching with 73% polling stations still inaccessible for persons with disabilities in an urban constituency of Karachi – the economic hub of Pakistan.

CPDI Senior Programme Manager Raja Shoaib Akbar, who has supervised the survey, stated that 30% polling stations did not have a firm and obstacle-free passage leading to the building while 67% buildings did not provide a level access to the entrance of the polling station. He said persons with disabilities cannot go inside these buildings using wheelchairs as they only have stairs and no ramps. Even the ground floor of the buildings is inaccessible.

Moreover, 80% of the polling stations do not have a ramp to facilitate voters on wheelchairs. In 27% of the cases, protruding objects outside the polling stations pose a challenge on the way, Akbar shared.
According to international standards, polling station gates must be wide enough to facilitates voters with disabilities. However, the survey revealed that smaller pedestrian gates pose several problems. Firstly, the gates are not enough wide enough, secondly, the iron bar below the gate is always thicker than the maximum threshold standard of 6mm. Lastly, the threshold of the gates is generally two to three inches above the ground causing another hindrance. The ECP should direct its staff to facilitate persons with disabilities by opening the larger gates as this would ease some of the discomfort.

The survey further revealed that no low slope ramps or other facilities were observed at these buildings for facilitation of persons with disabilities.

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Poor lighting posed another impediment for persons with reduced visibility. Also, only 57% of polling stations possessed exterior lighting arrangements, leaving the entrance of 43% sampled polling stations in the dark at the time of closing of the stations and display of results by the presiding officer.

The report suggested that slight changes can make these inaccessible buildings more persons-with-disabilities-friendly, such as construction of small ramps at the entrance and inside the building, leveling of pathways in front of the polling stations and removal of protruding objects from the pathways and interior of the building.

Despite many attempts, contact with the provincial election commissioner could not be established. However, the provincial spokesperson for the election commission said, “It is the job of the returning officer to look into the matter.” The returning officer of NA 243 neither attended his phone nor responded to text messages.

Published in Express Tribune

73pc polling stations in NA-243 inaccessible for disabled persons

Islamabad: As high as 73% polling stations in NA-243 Karachi east II are inaccessible to Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) in one way or other, reveals an accessibility audit conducted by the Pakistan Alliance for Inclusive Elections (PAIE).

The percentage is worrying in many aspects, especially when the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had made accessibility of polling stations part of its five-year strategic plan to be implemented prior to general elections 2018. PAIE has demanded of ECP to take immediate steps towards making all the polling stations accessible for PWDs.

The accessibility audit was conducted on a sample of 30 polling stations of the constituency. Results depict that maximum polling stations fail to meet one or more mandatory criteria but it also endorses that 67% of such buildings could be easily made accessible with little alterations.

Fatimah Shah, Senior Advocacy Officer at Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives, shared that the purpose of the PAIE audit was to present reliable data to stakeholders regarding accessibility in elections and to generate debate on the concerns of PWDs. This issue becomes more important in a scenario where ECP could not resolve accessibility problem before general elections 2018 and now by-elections are approaching with 73% polling stations still inaccessible for PWDs in an urban constituency of Pakistan’s largest city.

Sharing details, Senior Programme Manager at CPDI Raja Shoaib Akbar stated that 30% polling stations did not have a firm and obstacle-free passage leading to the building; 67% buildings did not provide a level access to the entrance of polling station; and 80% of the polling stations not having level access also did not possess a ramp to facilitate wheel chair users in entering the polling station. In 27% cases, protruding objects outside the polling stations pose a challenge on the way, he added.

Although 73% of the entrance gates are wide enough to comply with minimum standard of 32”, but on Election Day pedestrian gates are likely to remain open instead of vehicle gates. Those smaller pedestrian gates possess several problems. ECP should direct its staff to facilitate PWDs by opening the larger gates for them.

The survey further reveals that the interior building and outer entrance of 50% polling stations were not on same level. No low slope ramps or other facilities were observed at these building for facilitation of PWDs. Only 57% of the polling stations possess exterior lighting arrangement, leaving 43% sampled polling stations entrance in dark at the time of closing of polling stations and display of result by the presiding office.

Published in The News

Govt urged to adopt Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights

ISLAMABAD: The federal government needs to start implementation of economic reform agenda by adopting Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights. The said bill clearly describes the taxpayers’ rights, the mechanism which will ensure the protection of these rights and possible remedy if taxpayers’ rights are violated or infringed upon.

According to a press release issued on Tuesday, Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) urged the federal government to take immediate steps to adopt Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights. Executive Director CPDI Amer Ejaz said that “CPDI acknowledges the commitment of newly elected PTI government towards the economic reforms”. Ejaz further remarked that by adopting taxpayers’ bill of rights PTI would win the taxpayers’ trust and confidence in the revenue collection and public expenditure mechanisms. Without appealing to the taxpayers’ trust it would be hard for government to reform the economy and achieve the targets that PTI government has set for itself.

He expresses that Mukhtar Ahmad Ali Founding Director of CPDI was part of the sub-committee constituted by former Tax Ombudsman Dr. Shoaib Suddle. The committee was headed by Dr. Tariq Hasan which drafted the said Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights. The said bill is also available on the Tax Ombudsman’s website. Unfortunately, the above referred draft has not yet been given due attention by the relevant authorities.

CPDI stresses that as a part of PTI’s economic reform agenda, the government should take up the bill on priority basis and ensure that Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights is adopted and enacted into an enforceable law without further delay.

Published in The News

ECP urged to make post-election review


Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) urged the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to carry out an in-depth post-election review exercise.

In a letter written to Election Commission of Pakistan Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Muhammad, the CPDI Executive Director Amer Ejaz highlighted the challenges that ECP faced in pre and post-election phase.

Enter ‘Naya Pakistan’: Elections 2018 and the ‘foreign press’

He also gave suggestions for carrying out the robust and professional in-depth post-election review exercise. The letter says that despite ECP’s best efforts and much better performance compared to past elections, it is an unfortunate fact that serious questions have been raised by certain political parties and other stakeholders about the fairness of pre-election and result consolidation processes.

CPDI believes it would be prudent to take stock of all such questions and the critique, and systematically reflect on the whole process by carrying out an in-depth post-election review exercise.

CPDI suggests involving external experts to carry out this exercise. It is also required to adopt methodology involving feedback and input from all stakeholders including senior election officers, and a sample of polling agents, candidates, presiding officers and other polling staff, returning officers, district election officers, monitoring officers and election observers.

PTI fields candidates for by-elections

CPDI demands that ECP should carry out this exercise as soon as possible, and share its findings with the parliament.

Ejaz further remarked that the post-election review exercise will help ECP to bring further improvements in the legal framework, election procedures and ECP’s management capacity. The exercise will lead ECP to better prepare for any such situation in future. This will also improve commission’s credibility in this sensitive time as opposition is in doubts of it.

Published in The Express Tribune

CPDI urges ECP to take post-election review exercise

ISLAMABAD: Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) urged the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to carry out an in-depth post-election review exercise.

In a letter written to Secretary Election Commission of Pakistan Babar Yaqoob Fateh Muhammad, Executive Director CPDI Amer Ejaz highlighted the challenges that ECP faced in pre and post-election phase. He also gave suggestions for carrying out the robust and professional in-depth post-election review exercise. The letter says that despite ECP’s best efforts and much better performance compared to past elections, it is an unfortunate fact that serious questions have been raised by certain political parties and other stakeholders about the fairness of pre-election and result consolidation processes.

CPDI believes it would be prudent to take stock of all such questions and the critique and systematically reflect on the whole process by carrying out an in-depth post-election review exercise.

CPDI suggests involving external experts to carry out this exercise. It is also required to adopt methodology involving feedback and input from all stakeholders including senior election officers, and a sample of polling agents, candidates, presiding officers and other polling staff, returning officers, district election officers, monitoring officers and election observers. CPDI demands that ECP should carry out this exercise as soon as possible and share its findings with the Parliament.

Ejaz further remarked that the post-election review exercise will help ECP to bring further improvements in the legal framework, election procedures and ECP’s management capacity. The exercise will lead ECP to better prepare for any such situation in future. This will also improve Commission’s credibility in this sensitive time as opposition is in doubts of it. By carrying out such practices ECP will reflect upon its clear intentions of doing their work honorably and scrupulously.

CPDI expresses the desire that ECP will take this advisement under consideration and take some practical measures regarding this matter. We also acknowledge the concerted efforts made by ECP to conduct general election 2018 on time.

Published in The News

4th Open Government Partnership deadline missed

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has missed the fourth deadline given by the Open Government Partnership to submit a National Action Plan (NAP) on fiscal transparency, access to information, asset disclosures and citizen engagement.

After missing three deadlines, the government on August 31 missed the fourth deadline for formally presenting the NAP for implementation up to June 30, 2020.

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a multilateral initiative launched in 2011 which brings together government reformers and civil society leaders to create action plans to make governments more inclusive, responsive and accountable.

Pakistan joined the OGP in December 2016 on the direction of the former finance Minister, Ishaq Dar. Pakistan committed to adhere to four key principles: Fiscal transparency, access to information, asset disclosures and citizen engagement.

To date, the OGP has more than 70 member countries, including Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Ghana. The Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), a civil society organization which maintains an ‘OGP Watch Desk’, said that Pakistan has missed all the deadlines set by the OGP to submit the NAP.

The Economic Affairs Division held multiple consultative sessions to draft the NAP and a formal meeting of a multi-stakeholder forum was held in October 2017. On January 18, the OGP secretariat penned a letter to Miftah Ismail, the then advisor to the Prime Minister for finance, saying it had not received a NAP from the Government of Pakistan by the end of 2017. It informed Islamabad that Pakistan had been shifted from the odd-numbered year grouping of OGP member countries to the even-numbered year grouping scheduled to submit plans in 2018, 2020 and so on.

“Our government eagerly joined the OGP in 2016 but couldn’t do much on the path of co-creating the NAP except missing the back-to-back deadlines. Civil society organizations have been advocating for the cause but nothing substantial can be achieved till the government gets to grips with the issue,” said Amer Ejaz, Executive Director of the CPDI.

Afghanistan joined the OGP in 2017, submitted a NAP on time and is now in the process of implementation. The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has claimed it would bring an end to corruption, and bring about transparency and openness in government affairs, Amer said. The OGP upholds similar values for its member countries, he said.

He asked Finance Minister Asad Umar to immediately look in to the causes of the repeated delays and establish contact with the OGP support unit regarding the submission of the NAP.

SOCIETY: ACCESSING THE POLLING BOOTH

General elections are just round the corner and all parties cannot emphasise enough on the inclusion of all sections of society in the electoral process. That said, what should be a cause of concern are the conditions at the polling stations in terms of accessibility and basic facilities for the marginalised groups of society including persons with disabilities (PWDs) and the transgender community.

Due to inadequate basic facilities and inaccessibility to polling stations set up in public buildings, physically-challenged people, and members of transgender and intersex community are reluctant to exercise their right to vote in the July 25 elections.

According to an accessibility audit conducted by a non-governmental organisation (NGO), Pakistan Alliance for Inclusive Elections (PAIE), the situation is unnerving as 95 percent of the sampled polling stations in Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) do not meet the mandatory accessibility criteria for PWDs.

Having the legal right to cast your ballot isn’t much comfort when poor access or social taboo means you can’t physically do it

Survey findings reveal that the approach pathways of 54 percent of the sample polling stations “are not firm and obstacle free”, while at 69 percent polling stations the “pedestrian gates do not provide level access to the building.” The study also shows that 65 percent of the sampled polling stations “do not meet the mandatory criterion of functional lighting at the gate.”

In a previous study compiled by PAIE during by-polls in the most important constituency of Peshawar NA-29 — denoted as NA-4 until fresh delimitation of constituencies by the ECP — about 80 percent polling stations of the area did not meet accessibility criteria, whereas the inclusion of PWDs in the electoral process and accessibility of polling stations is vital among other procedural and administrative measures.

According to the latest data available at the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, there are 3.3 million PWDs in Pakistan. One of the major challenges faced by PWDs in their mobility is accessibility to buildings.

A senior citizen keen on exercising his right to vote | Photo by Tanveer Shahzad/White Star

 

“With the upcoming elections, it is high time that the stakeholders on both demand and supply side use their resources in making this election inclusive,” the study suggests. “For this, accessibility of polling stations is one prerequisite.”

“I am not able to cast my vote even in the posh area of Peshawar Saddar, because the polling stations are not accessible,” says Mushtaq Hussain Mohmand, a 52-year-old disabled person.

Mohmand also runs an organisation, Friends of Paraplegics, for the rights of PWDs in KP. The organisation has more than 12,000 registered disabled persons including almost 4,000 women and girls.

He says that they have decided to boycott the upcoming general elections because of the accessibility issue at the polling stations in the entire province. According to him, although politicians want their support in the electoral process, they hardly bother to discuss the issues of PWDs in the assembly, once they come into power.

There is a need to provide adequate facilities in order to include physically-challenged people in the electoral process | https://www.globalaccessibilitynews.com

 

He says that they would start campaigns on social media and in the mainstream media about the problems confronting PWDs during and after the electoral process, adding that in the general elections people from his community should be able to cast their votes.

“The government should establish separate polling stations that have ramps, functional lightning and other basic facilities for disabled people,” he says.

He mentions that the polling stations established in public places do not have washrooms for both PWDs and senior citizens, which is also a big obstacle for a physically-challenged person while exercising his/her right to vote.

Qamar Naseem, a Peshawar-based activist working for the rights of transgender people, highlights various issues that transgender people face in order to cast their votes. “Most of them are reluctant to visit polling stations due to security issues and societal taboos,” he says. “According to Nadra, there are 1,948 registered voters from the transgender and intersex community but only one percent would be willing to exercise their right to vote. Although 13 transgender persons had submitted their nomination papers for national and provincial assemblies to contest the general elections, most of them withdrew their nominations later. Two transgenders will contest elections on National Assembly seats while five are aspirants of KP and Punjab provincial assemblies,” he adds.

Physically-challenged senior citizens face lack of facilities | Photo by Arif Ali /White Star

 

A study conducted by his organisation reveals that, in the last three years, about 54 transgender people were killed while 1,133 cases of sexual and physical abuse were recorded in KP. It is the hostile environment towards transgender and intersex community which forces them to remain in specific vicinities.

Naseem says that transgender persons were mostly living in major cities of the province, i.e. Peshawar and Mardan, instead of their native villages, pointing out that they had left their hometowns because of social norms and values.

“Transfer of vote facility is not provided by the ECP so transgender persons have to exercise the right to vote in their native areas,” he says. “How can a transgender person take the risk of going to the areas which they have left, to cast their vote? Their families did not accept them and that is the reason they live in city areas to earn the livelihood.”

He says that the issues faced by transgender persons in their daily life stopped them from participating in electoral process, adding that the government should transfer their vote to those areas where they were living. One separate polling station in each major city of the province would help them to cast their vote, he suggests.

On condition of anonymity, a public servant told Dawn that when she was taking a training course for the July 25 general elections, she did not hear even a single word about the facilities for transgender persons and PWDs in polling stations. She further said that the election manuals and guideline books provided to her also lacked materials on how physically-challenged and transgender persons could cast their votes on election day in crowded polling stations.

“The ECP has issued directives to the KP provincial government to provide basic facilities for PWDs in 2018 elections, including proper lighting, open doors and ramps in the polling stations at public buildings,” says Sohail Ahmad, spokesperson of KP Election Commission.

He adds that about 14,655 polling stations have been established across the province in which 534 do not meet the accessibility criteria. He further says that the KP government is trying to make those accessible for special persons.

He says that for the forthcoming general elections, the ECP has mostly established polling stations on ground level where PWDs could cast their vote without any problem, adding that they could also exercise their right to vote via postal ballot.

Responding to a question, the spokesperson of the provincial election commission says that the transgender persons could cast their votes in both male and female polling stations, adding that a transgender could cast vote according to his/her gender mentioned during the voters’ registration process.

KP Assembly spends more on foreign tours than Punjab PA

 

 

KP Assembly spends more on foreign tours than Punjab PA

ISLAMABAD: As the assemblies are nearing their five-year terms, the smaller Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Assembly has beaten the three-time bigger Punjab Assembly in terms of spending on its members through foreign trips and salary raise, official data obtained by The News revealed.

Certified information obtained through the Right to Information Law shows that despite being a third of the size of the Punjab Assembly, the KP Assembly spent three-time more on foreign visits of its members and staff as compared to legislators in the Punjab during the last five years.

Interestingly, according to the KP Assembly website, the house passed five laws during as many years to enhance salaries and perks of provincial assembly members and cabinet members while during the same period not a single such law was passed by the Punjab Assembly.

The data, however, shows that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led KP Assembly passed more laws ever since its inception after 2013 elections as compared to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) led Punjab Assembly. The Punjab Assembly passed 163 government bills in five years while the KP Assembly passed as many as 172 bills, which included 29 private member bills.

The data shows the KP Assembly, which has 124 members, spent Rs53.6 million on foreign tours while the Punjab Assembly with the strength of 371 members spent only Rs16.5 million on foreign tours of its members.

The certified data shows that only eight members of the Punjab Assembly went on foreign tours during the last five years while in KP over 60 members of assembly embarked on state-funded foreign tours.

The data was obtained through respective provincial Right to Information (RTI) laws by this correspondent in collaboration with the Centre for Peace and Development Initiative (CPDI), a civil society organisation working on the RTI.

The KP Assembly Speaker, Asad Qaiser, travelled abroad 10 times, including six trips to England, and one trip each to the United States, Iran, Scotland and Africa. Qaiser spent Rs5.5 million from the provincial budget on his trips while Information Technology Special Secretary Attaullah Khan had spent Rs4.1 million of the public exchequer on foreign visits. In addition, Rs2.9 million was spent by the KP Assembly Special Secretary to the Speaker Syed Wiqar Shah on foreign trips.

MPAs, provincial ministers, advisers, parliamentary secretaries and even the opposition members of the assembly have used the public money to undertake these visits. The provincial assembly’s special secretary for information technology had visited eight countries during his tenure, while special secretary of the speaker of the provincial assembly visited six countries.

Also the KP Assembly passed five bills to increase perks and privileges of its members. These bills include The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Salaries, Allowances and Privileges Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2017, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Privileges) (Amendment) Bill, 2017, the KP Ministers Salaries Allowances and Privilege (Amendment) Bill, 2014, The KP Salary Allowances and Privileges Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2014 and The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Ministers Salaries & Allowances (Amendment) Bill 2014.

When contacted for version, KP Parliamentary Secretary for Law & Parliamentary Affairs Nagina Khan said since the PTI government had eliminated all the means of corruption for members, they were being compensated with enhanced salaries, perks, etc.

However, in a recent press conference, PTI chief Imran Khan admitted that his party MPAs accepted bribe in Senate elections to vote against the party candidates. “Previously, MPAs used to get quota in jobs and get their favorites appointed against various posts. But now the members are totally dependent on their salaries and there are no other means to make money,” she said. When asked why five separate bills had been passed to enhance salaries, she said, “It is always good to bring change slowly otherwise it could become a media issue”.

On the other hand, information received from the Punjab Assembly shows that Rs16.5 million were spent from the taxpayers’ money on foreign tours of MPAs and staff of the assembly secretariat.

Interestingly, in Punjab the total amount (Rs10.8 million) spent on tours of assembly officials is twice the amount spent on MPs (Rs5.6 million). The data shows Speaker Punjab Assembly Rana Muhammad Iqbal visited London thrice while spending an amount of Rs2.05 million from the national exchequer on these visits. All his visits were conducted to attend the CPA meetings, according to the information provided by the Punjab Assembly secretariat.

Deputy Speaker Punjab Assembly Sardar Sher Ali Gorchani spent Rs1.05 million on his maiden visit to Columbus (USA) in 2016. He was there to attend the general conference of International Federation of Library Association (IFLA).

Mian Tariq Mehmood of PML-N who made six trips abroad — the most by any member — spent an amount of Rs2.9 million on these tours. He told The News that visits were made to attend the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) meeting. He said it was the declared policy of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to stop unnecessary foreign trips of MPAs, which were used in the past as a form of political bribe.

The PML-N member claimed that all his visits were sponsored by CPA. However, the Public Information Officer of Punjab government Abeeda Haroon told The News that the visits were partly funded from the public exchequer. “The expenditure incurred were in accordance with the government of Punjab letter No.FD.SR.I-83/07 dated 15th March 2007.” She said 30 percent daily allowance is only admissible to the participants if the tour is sponsored by the host.

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